Directed by Dermott Downs
Written by Neil Reynolds & Shoshana Sachi
[WARNING: CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS FOR EPISODE 02 – “DONKEY PATROL”]
At the end of an incredibly heartfelt, sombre and reflective first episode, a donkey farts and a hole open ups in the middle of Cloverton, letting us know that the real ‘weird’ tale of the Doom Patrol is about to begin.
In that sense, as much as I adored the pilot episode, there was a new sense of trepidation to this second instalment. And as much as the first episode proved its ability to work well to translate these themes and characters, this second now has to prove just how it’s going to incorporate the weirder aspects of the source material, pushing the boundaries of a traditional team superhero show to hopefully become the Doom Patrol series we’ve always wanted.
Well, I’m happy to report that this episode does exactly that, proving that its ‘coming together’ episode is just as strong as its first. It establishes new characters, furthers backstories and establishes team dynamics, all while introducing us to our new villain’s powers.
The first half of this episode has the gang dealing with the aftermath of the hole that swallowed Cloverton. With their second outing into the public eye seemingly being the cause of the loss of an entire town, they’re quickly demoralized, with only Cliff left to try and do something about it. Rita quickly tries to fit herself back into the comforting routine at Doom Manor, Larry tries to leave town entirely, and Jane’s experience with the hole has dealt some serious damage to her psyche, leaving her scattered and unstable.
A lot of really important things happen in this first half, but all of these events work to show just how awkward these characters are when faced with change and the real world, and how quickly they fall back on the patterns and routines they’ve lived within for decades. Even Cliff, who clearly wants to help, still finds himself acting out in the same ways he always has. And thus, it takes one big change to set them on a new course to become the team they’re meant to be. Because the other most important part of this first half is the introduction of Cyborg, aka Vic Stone.
Having never appeared in a Doom Patrol comic before, he was one of the most controversial aspects of the show from the first announcement of the lineup. Luckily, he ends up being a brilliant addition to the cast, and his use as a driving force of this episode sets him up to be an important, and hopefully beloved, part of the series to come.
Played by Joivan Wade, Vic comes across as a mix of fun-loving and assured. He’s still small time in Detroit, but he’s been a hero for some time, and is strong-willed in his protection of those who can’t protect themselves, garnering the love of the people of Detroit for his efforts. But in his own way, Vic is also shown to be stuck in his own patterns. He’s firmly under his father’s thumb, someone who has had his whole life dictated by his own father’s work and wishes for his son to work hard and one day become a member of the Justice League. So when Vic hears of the events of Cloverton, he views it as a way to break free of his father’s grip. And when he stumbles across the bumbling residents of Doom Manor, it’s up to him to get them to assume their roles as protectors, and be the catalyst that stubborn Cliff, ‘crazy’ Jane and apathetic Rita and Larry need.
From here, we launch into the even wilder second half of the episode. Splitting the team up, we see Vic, Rita and Larry diving into the same hole that swallowed Cloverton, while Cliff tries his best to handle the unstable Jane. In the hole, we get the full force of the show’s distinctive brand of weird. An ethereal plain, where the town of Cloverton is shown as a riverside local, with a series of crosses that represent the townsfolk, all covered in a pink haze. It’s a simple, budget-friendly way to show an entirely separate realm of existence, and it works well to keep things visually interesting throughout.
From there, we have the reigns handed back to Alan Tyduk’s Mr. Nobody who controls the world inside the hole. As an omnipresent narrator, he forces the three to relive their painful origins (as seen partially for Rita and Larry last episode), before revealing to both them and the audience that there is so much more behind all of their origins than first shown, with each of them still holding on to something much darker than they could ever first admit.
It’s not only a great way to display Mr. Nobody’s power as this inter-dimensional villain, but also show how much weight and baggage these characters carry, and how much, even after these first two episodes, that they’ll have to face before truly accepting themselves. This also adds a lot more perspective to why Cliff was so focused on in the previous episode. In a way, we’ve seen the very worst of Cliff, and we know to extent what he has to face going forward, and we can only assume that the others will now receive as dark a dive as we saw with Cliff.
Speaking of which, with the other three down the hole, a big spotlight is given to the relationship between Cliff and Jane that is frequently my favourite part of any good Doom Patrol story. For Jane, it’s the beginning of our first proper look into her past. While there still isn’t too much actually revealed, we do get our first glimpses at her inner workings and ‘the underground’ that is so important to her identities. We also get the first hints about why she’s so distant, and the pain that all her identities can cause her.
Not only is yet another sublime look into another member of the cast, it also sees Guerrero’s talents shine even brighter. With her more unstable than ever in this episode, she is constantly and rapidly shifting between so many different personalities, and Guerrero captures every change so dynamically and so deftly that her range can be called nothing less than outstanding. It never feels forced or too ridiculous, just brilliant acting.
For Cliff, it’s also the first real connection he has made since his accident. He becomes suddenly very protective of Jane, and while this very quickly leads Jane to realizing he’s using her as a replacement for his daughter, by the end of the episode there is a genuine moment between them. A first fumbling of a connection that gives way to the awkward beginnings of a proper friendship. It’s the kind of relationship on screen I love, and Fraser and Guerrero working Cliff and Jane’s very unique and loud personas into it, leads to something beautiful and pure.
As a whole, this episode also makes some other great strides. Firstly, we get a reinvigorated sense of dark humor. From Cliff chasing a donkey to Larry having a revolving door conversation with an electrical spirit to Tudyk returning with his smarmy, meta narration, this episode has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, but moments that never detract from any scene that requires serious drama. It’s a wonderful balance for a show which has very quickly mastered its distinctive brand of weird character drama.
Secondly, the soundtrack really finds its identity. After being only adequate for the most part of the first episode, ‘Donkey Patrol’ brings eccentric and memorable tracks in the forms of synthy pop, postmodern rock and dark, ambient metallic tunes. I loved and noticed it all, and can only hope this memorability returns in every subsequent episode.
The cinematography and shot composition remain every bit as strong as in the pilot, with beautifully atmospheric shots of the ruined town and the dream-like plain of existence. Extra credit needs to also be given to the lighting that then holds the tone of every scene so perfectly. The CGI for Rita is still a little ropey, but the effects for the Negative spirit and Jane’s powers are noticeably better than most of the others we’ve seen on the show, which is certainly promising.
I’ve probably gushed enough, but this is just a 58 minute tour-de-force of second episode. It takes the conventions of a traditional ‘coming together’ episode, flips it on its head, deconstructs it, reconstructs it, introduces a whole new character, and adds in a bunch of fantastic comedy before ending on a sombre note. And with such a thorough understanding from the showrunners of how to structure it all, this episode doesn’t miss a beat or every rush anything, creating such a perfectly paced episode that it pretty much floored me. If every episode that follows is as robust and connecting as this one, DOOM PATROL could end up being the finest comic book TV show I’ve ever seen.
Doom Patrol is currently streaming weekly on DC Universe, and the whole series will stream worldwide on Netflix later this year.
The writer of this piece was: Connor Stephens
Connor Tweets from @diddlesMVP